Air travel has become such a norm for us that we often fail to appreciate how much technology really goes into making it happen. Sure, recent news has been quick to highlight what kind of gadgets are making their way into the cockpit and in-flight wireless is becoming pretty standard. What is often overlooked is the technology required to make those aircraft fly in the first place.

Earlier this month, after years in production and testing, the Boeing Corporation watched as their masterpiece, the 787 Dreamliner lifted off for its first flight. Operated by launch carrier All-Nippon Airways (ANA), the flight departed from Seattle’s Payne Field destined for Japan. From there, it would be integrated into their fleet and begin carrying passengers around the world.

The Boeing 787 represents the culmination of what we know about aviation. With thousands of advancements, the aircraft boats a range that can take it easily around the world, burning less fuel, and able to carry more passengers and cargo than other aircraft of its size. Let’s take a look at some of the improvements we can appreciate as passengers.

More Space/Storage

One of the areas where the Boeing made the most improvement on the 787 is with overall cabin space. While the aircraft isn’t considerably larger than others like it, Boeing employs some pretty cool technology to make the cabin feel larger. First, overhead bins are electronically controlled and with that, give them the ability to recess farther into the walls of the cabin. Additionally, Boeing utilizes a new kind of pressurization system that allows them to have vaulted ceilings in the aircraft, a first for a commercial airliner.

787 cabin

Lighting

With modern LED lighting appearing almost everywhere these days, it makes sense that they should also appear in aircrafts. Boeing recently made a lot of news for their “blue sky” cabin, featuring millions of LED lights that are used to simulate the effect of lighting outside. As the hours pass on a flight, Boeing is able to have the cabin reflect everything from dawn to dusk. This allows passengers to be more comfortable and can even be used to help reverse the effect of jet lag on longer flights.

Windows

Down to the smallest detail, Boeing really came through with the 787. Instead of the traditional plastic window shades that every other airliner in the world currently uses, Boeing created an “electrochromatic dimming system” that gives passengers the ability to electronically lighten or dim their window. Because of the way the process is designed, you can allow almost no light in yet still see outside or fog out the entire window if you wish.

787 windows

Air Pressure

Airliners operate under many weight and size restrictions which come down to the necessity of air pressurization. Boeing 787’s composite fuselage is lighter than any other jet aircraft of its size. What does this have to do with technology or the average passenger? Everything! With a lighter fuselage, the 787 is able to fly with a lower internal cabin pressure providing customers with 10% more oxygen and a huge reduction in those annoying ear pops as you descend. The 787 also uses an electronic filtration system that scans the air particles and filters out harmful parts or germs as you fly.

Flight Deck

Behind a locked, armored door sits the most remarkable parts of the 787. The flight deck is the control center of the entire aircraft. It’s amazing that the thousands of miles of fiber-optic cables, attached to sensors that can analyze and interpret millions of settings can be managed by only two people. Additionally, the 787’s flight deck operates on a “fly by wire” setting. Aircraft of the past moved through the air based on direct input from controls handled by the pilots. Today, pilots merely manipulate controls that are beamed to a computer which in a matter of milliseconds moves the plane in the safest way possible. With such sophisticated technology, the Boeing 787 is certified to even land itself, without pilot input, in zero visibility conditions.

787 flightdeck

Back in 2003, the director of the Boeing 787 program Mark Jenks¬†commented to reporters that the 787 was “the future. It really is. It’s a huge deal for us. If we get it wrong, it’s the end. And everyone here knows that.” Boeing took many chances, invented new technologies and decided to do things differently with the 787. The risk paid off and the aircraft is already gaining huge recognition, though only a few have been delivered so far. The advances represent years of research, testing and advances in the fields of both aviation safety and technology. More inspiring than the aircraft itself, it is a sign of what’s to come from the aviation world and just how much further we have to go.